This is the third of 10 posts I’m writing about how to combine gratitude and compassion for a happier life. Here’s the inspiration for this series:
“Because of the way your brain works, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness itself.” – Dr Amit Sood, from the Mayo Clinic
Wow! This insight feels pretty important!
How can we implement this in practice to turbo power our happiness?
I’ve come up with a simple 4-part framework for combining gratitude and compassion, and I’m sharing how to do that using 10 different examples in 10 posts. In each post I focus on a different area of gratitude as a jumping off point.
This week my gratitude reference point is Vulnerability.
There was a time when I was a ‘go it alone’ kind of a girl. I hid my vulnerability from others and always tried to present a brave face. But that’s not real bravery, is it? It takes WAY more courage to be raw and exposed.
It took me a long time to figure out that my ‘brave’ face was just a BS face. I wasn’t being real with people. When I was having a hard time I’d disappear and retreat into my shell. I wouldn’t ask for help. I didn’t trust people enough to let them in.
That was a lonely way to live. But I guess I thought it was necessary to be safe. I’d had some pretty bad experiences growing up, and it seemed like the best strategy was just not to trust people.
I eventually realized that the person I was distrusting more than anyone, was myself. I didn’t trust myself to be able to discern whether someone else was worthy of my trust or not.
I wanted to be vulnerable, but first I had to learn how to identify good vulnerability ‘allies.’ How to find my tribe of trust.
I discovered that, like any skill, discernment can be learned. I mean, it’s not a good idea to be open and vulnerable with a sociopath for example. Or a narcissist. Experiences like that are what got me onto the ‘go it alone’ strategy in the first place. But I soon learned how to spot those people and steer clear of them.
Occasionally I messed up, misjudged things, and got hurt. Other times, despite good judgment I still got hurt. Life, right? But the other thing I learned is that I can heal. I’m more resilient than I gave myself credit for.
Now, I feel confident in finding the right kind of people to be vulnerable with. People that I can trust to be kind and loving, even when they’re calling me out on something. People who can listen without judging. People who see my best qualities and never forget them, even when they’re mad at me. With the right kind of person, I don’t have to be perfect to be loved. I can mess up sometimes and it’s okay. I can be real. It’s safe.
If I get hurt anyway… I know I can heal, and I can forgive.
For that, and for the discernment that has allowed me to be more vulnerable, I’m very grateful.
I can’t change the world. No one can do that on their own. But everyone contributes to the collective consciousness. So logic dictates that what I do matters, and what you do matters. How we do it matters. Jointly we create our collective experience, because we’re all in this together.
We can’t really expect an abundant collective to be created while we’re personally behaving in ways based in fear, aggression or intolerance, can we?
Does knowing that stop me? Not always.
Sometimes the system I’m living in scares me. Sometimes I sink into feeling like I’m powerless to change it. I know I’m not alone in this… truth is I’m NOT powerless, but that fear can feel real nonetheless.
When fears are running high, we naturally switch into ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode. It’s a survival mechanism. Basically, it’s a natural evolutionary response, and we all have it so we’d better learn how to deal with it.
In the past few weeks I’ve had a couple of unfortunate exchanges on Facebook. Yes, about politics. I’m not proud of it, but I understand why it happened. There’s some scary stuff going on in the world and having online arguments can be part of my ‘fight’ response.
More often than ‘fight’ though, I choose ‘flight’. I retreat into my shell like a turtle. I withdraw from the world, because I feel that what the world is showing me is just too frightening to deal with.
When I’m like that, I’ve come to realise that what I’m doing is blocking new abundance and opportunity from entering my life. There’s only room for me and my fears inside that turtle shell… and nothing else. It may feel safe, momentarily, but nothing is moving forward while I’m in there. It’s a place of zero growth and zero new opportunities. And it sure is lonely.
How do I shift out of it? How do we all shift out of it?
Well, if the scarcity paradigm is about fear and suspicion, then the abundance paradigm is about empathy and connection. When I’m in my shell, what I really need is to reach out, tell someone I trust what I’m experiencing, and let that person be empathetic and compassionate to me. Even though it’s hard for me to reach out, it’s important.
It goes the other way too. When you realise that one of your friends has gone MIA and not called you for weeks… instead of taking it personally, ask yourself whether maybe they might be hiding out in their turtle shell? Do they need you to reach out to them, gently and with love, and check in on how they’re doing?
This is based on a Buddhist practice called Metta. It involves imagining sending ‘loving kindness’. What’s that? I imagine it to be like the feeling you get from a loving, nurturing hug.
Firstly, for all the times in my life that I’ve felt afraid and gone into ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode, I send loving kindness to myself. For all the times that I’ve been too scared to open up and be vulnerable, or had difficulty trusting someone even though they were trustworthy, I send loving kindness to myself.
(The practice of compassion always begins with the self. If we can’t practice self-compassion then it’s going to be very hard for us to have compassion for others.)
Like most people, I’ve reacted out of fear plenty of times. I’ve picked fights and had arguments that weren’t helpful. I’ve also retreated into my shell, distanced myself from others, refused to open up and be vulnerable because I didn’t trust. Other times, I lacked the awareness to know who to trust and who not to, and so I opened up to the wrong people, got myself hurt or put myself in danger. I forgive myself for all that… I send my younger self, who didn’t know any better, loving kindness.
Secondly, for all the people I love, respect, and admire… I send them loving kindness for all the times they may feel afraid and, as a result, act out of their ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. They may also be hiding out in their shell sometimes without me knowing it. I send them loving kindness.
Thirdly, for all the people I don’t even know who may be struggling in this way… I send loving kindness. For all the people I do know but don’t have much of a relationship with, who may also be struggling with this… I send loving kindness.
Fourthly, for all the people I know who actually irritate me, or people that I’m currently having issues with who may also be struggling in this way… I send them loving kindness. Especially people who I’ve had fear-based confrontations with!
What can I do this week to put it into action? How can I express my gratitude for having developed my discernment, my ability to be vulnerable, and to recognise my ‘fight’ and ‘flight’ responses? How can I practice compassion for myself and for those who feel afraid or have difficulty being vulnerable?
I explained my turtle shell scenario to one of my most empathetic friends and she had a great idea.
She said: “Let’s have a code. When you’re in your shell, text me a picture of a turtle so I’ll know. Then, when I get the turtle picture, what would you like me to do in response?”
I said, “Text me a time. So I’ll know when is a good time that you call take a call from me, listen to my fears and gently help talk me out of my shell.”
That strategy helped me feel like I have permission to reach out to her whenever I need to. In fact, just getting that permission alone was enough to bring me back out of my shell!
So when I say “we’re all in this together” it’s more than just a platitude. I need my abundance collective, and my abundance collective needs me. Especially when the whole scarcity paradigm is raging and all its associated fears are running high.
My friend and I decided we’d respond to the fear and ‘flight’ response by being there for each other. Not to amplify each other’s fears… just to listen and gently coax each other back into actively and collectively doing our part to create the kind, abundant world we both want to live in.
So that’s my action plan for the ‘flight’ response. What about the ‘fight’ response?
Well, if I find myself in any confrontational situations this week: I pledge to recognise that what’s REALLY going on is that I’m scared, and I’ve slipped into an evolutionary ‘fight’ response… and (probably) so has the other person that I’m having a confrontation with. This recognition usually helps me snap out of it. I can then acknowledge my fears, acknowledge theirs too, and really start listening with empathy and compassion to why they feel that way.
The recognition that FEAR is what drove me into the confrontation in the first place, allows me to step away from my defensive position, engage my compassion (for both of us) and make my way back to responding out of LOVE instead.
What can you do to combine gratitude and compassion this week? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
To YOUR Abundance,
Julie Ann Cairns